8 Unique Places to Find Jewelry for Less

bracelet

Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away and consumers are spending only slightly more on the holiday this year than last, according to a recent report from the National Retail Federation. Yet, the report estimates $4.4 billion will be spent on jewelry for Feb. 14 festivities, including gold, silver and diamonds.

Despite the hefty price tag typically affixed to fine jewelry, you can find bargains on baubles in the most unusual places. In the spirit of saving a little dough on this popular Valentine’s Day present, here are eight unexpected places you can find bling for that special someone for less.

1. Websites for the Rejected
Sadly, there’s an entire online industry dedicated to people selling jewelry purchased for a former lover or received by one. Apparently, these items are simply a reminder of love gone cold and men and women alike are eager to get rid of them. Exboyfriendjewelry.com and IDoNowIDont.com represent great resources for used jewelry ranging from pricey engagement rings to designer earrings — you can expect to much less than you would at a retail location.

2. Struggling Department Stores
Gift cards to retailers struggling to stay afloat are understandably unpopular, making them a steal on the secondary market. Shoppers can find discount gift cards to JCPenney, for example, for up to 30-percent off at sites like GiftCardGranny.com. Savvy shoppers can collect these cards for the purpose of buying fine jewelry during sale time — around Valentine’s Day, for example — and purchase the good stuff for a fraction of the retail price.

3. Pawn Shop
Most people know pawn shops are great places to find real and vintage jewelry for less. However, you must be prepared for your purchase by researching prices and knowing what to look for. For savvy tips on navigating pawn shops, consider this expert advice from the stars of Hardcore Pawn as shared by ABC News.

4. eBay
As the recent seller of a $300 ring on eBay, I can say with confidence this popular auction site is a great resource for finding bling at a bargain. I parted with my ring for $60 because I really, really wanted to get rid of it. Though the purchaser got my ring for a steal, he or she may not know it. That’s why it’s important to do your research when buying jewelry and other pricey items from personal sellers.

5. Antique Stores
A friend of mine recently flaunted a beautiful ring on Facebook that she found in an antique store. Though these stores are packed to the brim with everything from books to clothing to furniture, you can also find unique jewelry for a steal. Antique shops are one of the few places you can score vintage or true antique pieces when you peruse with a critical eye, and some shops even specialize in jewelry picked up at estate sales. Don’t be afraid to negotiate if the initial price isn’t right.

6. Etsy
If you’re looking for something a little less mainstream, consider the community of artisans on Etsy.com. You can find unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry like cuff bracelets, engagement rings, personalized pieces and more from creative people around the country and internationally. Sometimes you can even negotiate price with the seller, so don’t be afraid to banter when you find something you like.

7. Estate Sales
Thrift shops and antique stores often shop estate sales for their wares, and you can cancel out the middleman by doing the same. Unlike garage sales, estate sales are much larger affairs and typically the result of the homeowner’s passing. Though you likely won’t find the family diamonds for sale, jewelry that lacks high monetary or sentimental value will be yours for the choosing. Search newspaper listings, Craigslist or EstateSale.net to find local sales.

8. Discount Retailers
I wouldn’t recommend purchasing an engagement ring from TJMaxx; however, discount retailers stock designer jewelry for much less than MSRP. Hit up your local Ross or Marshall’s for great deals on designer watches, earrings, necklaces and pendants. Just be sure to separate the treasures from the trash and let the salesperson know you’re looking for quality pieces.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List

empty wallet

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List: Ten Ways to Manage Your Finances and Avoid Post-Holiday Regrets
The holidays are filled with temptation to go overboard with spending.
Financial expert Eric Tyson offers advice on how to manage your holiday spending.

The holidays are upon us, bringing all those personal and family images and sensations we cherish. But for many of us, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights (a purse overflowing with credit card receipts) and sounds (the ca-ching! of the cash registers marking our escalating debt). These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially during this less-than-prosperous economic period.

“Overall, the Great Recession brought about a renewed dedication to saving,” says Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition. “Before the recession, our national personal savings rate was close to zero, and now it’s around 3 percent. But it is very important that you not let your holiday spending zap all of the saving progress you made during the year.

“Whether it’s a dedication to the gift-giving tradition, a sense of obligation, or a feeling that the holidays entitle us to have a little more fun than usual, too many of us seem to turn a blind eye to the budget-busting reality of all that spending over just a couple of months,” adds Tyson. “Don’t let excessive holiday spending cause any unnecessary financial stress for you and your family.”

What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday and avoid the financial hangover afterwards? Tyson provides great tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check.

Find an alternative to gift-giving during the holidays. Many people feel they have to give gifts during the holidays, either because it’s a family tradition or because they know their friends and relatives have gotten gifts for them. There are plenty of great ways to trade in this tradition for another one that is even more meaningful, and chances are your family and friends will be happy to save gift-buying dough as well.

“Instead of exchanging gifts, your family members might want to pool their money and spend it on a holiday outing,” says Tyson. “If you have kids, you’ll probably want to get them a little something, but set strict spending limits. Instead of piling up the toys, let each child choose an outing or event that he or she gets to spend with you one-on-one. Kids will look back on the valuable time you’ve spent together a lot more fondly than they will any toy or video game they use a couple of times and then toss aside.”

If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere as necessary. Perhaps you’d rather dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting for yourself in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. “It doesn’t matter where you make cuts, just that you make them,” says Tyson. “Keeping your other spending under control while you’re out there doing your shopping can be a challenge, but just keep repeating to yourself the importance of not over-spending. That way when it comes time to actually pass out those presents you’ve purchased, you can do it without grimacing as you think about the damage they did to your bank account.”

Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, your new best friends should be your checkbook register, credit card statements, and all of your receipts. It’s easy to get into a spending rhythm when shopping for yourself or others, and that’s why you need to physically write down every purchase you make and make sure you don’t go over your budget. “When you start to add up everything you’re spending, you may be shocked at what all those expenses from this store and that store add up to be,” says Tyson. “And don’t forget about all those ‘necessary’ holiday extras. Most people don’t budget their shopping and don’t realize that by the time you buy all the presents, plus wrapping paper, cards, decorations, etc., it’s added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to will help keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and will help you hone in on the most reasonably priced holiday items.”

Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras! Particularly during the holidays, companies pull out their most appealing packaging in hopes of snagging the eyes of shoppers. That’s why along with your budget, you’re going to want to take an exact list of what you want to buy for your gift recipients. Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy.

“It’s very easy to go in with no plan, see something you like, and get it simply because you have no idea what else to get for a hard-to-buy-for relative despite the gift’s significant price tag,” says Tyson. “Another temptation that the list will help you squelch is the desire to buy those little knickknacks here and there that you think will make nice small additions to the gifts you’ve purchased. Very rarely are things like this necessary, and if you’ve got your list in hand, it will be easier for you to pass them by without hesitation.”

Use the season to set a good example for your kids. Your kids learn about money from you. And if they see you spending left and right during the holiday season, the lesson they come away with isn’t going to be a good one. During the holidays, it’s very easy for the “gimmee gimmee gimmee” materialistic attitude to get out of control. After all, kids are bombarded with constant advertisements for toys, clothes, and the latest gadgets you can be guaranteed they’ll want (or at least think they do!).

“There’s plenty you can do to help kids appreciate the true meaning of the holidays,” says Tyson. “Have them give some of their money to a local charity, participate in a program in which they buy and wrap gifts for underprivileged kids, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. It can be an eye-opening experience for kids to see that not everyone has enough money to have an enjoyable holiday.”

Watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. Retailers run all sorts of specials to induce consumers to buy now, and the holidays offer these companies easy prey in the form of deal-seeking, cash-strapped consumers. For example, furniture stores frequently offer that if you buy now, you don’t have to pay a thing for a year, and you might even get free delivery. This sort of “push” marketing can make it harder for you to say no.

“This is just one example of how stores coax in shoppers,” says Tyson. “Always remember that free financing for, say, a year is not a huge cost to the dealer, but it is a cost, and if you forgo it, you should be able to negotiate a lower purchase price. Retailers find that buyers are less likely to negotiate the price if they are getting a short-term financing break. Read the fine print on any deal you are considering taking before you go to the store to make the purchase. It can be even harder to say no once you get to the store, so you’ll want to know what you are in for before you get there.”

Leave the plastic at home. Many of us can explain away spending so much on gifts because we simply charge everything and reason that we can pay it off gradually after the holidays. This is a great way to create a never-ending cycle of consumer debt for yourself. It only creates unnecessary financial stress for you after the holidays.

“Use your budget to figure out how you can purchase the gifts you want to purchase without putting them on your credit card,” says Tyson. “If you are so cash-strapped that you think it will be difficult to avoid charging gifts, then you may want to sit down with other friends and family and propose a limit on how much gifts can cost this year—or propose no adult gift exchanges at all. Far from being disappointed, it’s likely they’ll view this reprieve from gift-buying as a gift in its own right.”

Invest in your kids’ financial futures. It may not seem as exciting to your kids as a new iPod, but a contribution to their financial well-being will be appreciated long after such expensive “toys” are obsolete. “Have the grandparents contribute to a college tuition fund or savings account rather than buy them more stuff they don’t need,” suggests Tyson. “Or make one of your gifts to your kids a stock fund portfolio that can start accruing now. Also, make them aware of the budgets and tools you are using to keep your spending in check. The holidays are a great time for them to truly learn that money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Give the gift of time to your kids. Often, parents buy gifts for their kids with the best of intentions. Either you don’t want to deprive them of the toys and gadgets all of their friends have, or you want to give them the things you didn’t have as a kid.

“Both of these tendencies are perfectly understandable, but I’ve found that parents who buy too much for their kids often have difficulty changing the habit,” says Tyson. “The holiday season offers great opportunities for you to show your kids how much you love and care for them. For example, you can make time with them each week to watch a holiday film or TV show, go on a walk to see your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations, or emphasize that giving back message again and take them caroling at a local retirement home. All of these activities cost next to nothing, and they will be fun for the kids and for you!”

Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. “Sure, it might be nice to give your mom a brand new TV, but there are other things out there that will be even more meaningful and enjoyable for her—like a photo album with candid shots of the grandkids or something they’ve made for her themselves,” says Tyson. “If you are looking to give a gift that truly means something and that will keep its value for years to come, you are better off looking for nonmaterial gifts to give than for something your gift recipients could get themselves at the local big box store.”

“Money can easily become the focus of the holidays when it should be the last thing you are thinking about,” says Tyson. “By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you start getting those credit card bills in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holiday season. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.”

 

# # #

About the Author:
Eric Tyson is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling personal finance book author, syndicated columnist, and speaker. He has worked with and taught people from all financial situations, so he knows the financial concerns and questions of real folks just like you. Despite being handicapped by an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS in economics and biology from Yale University, Eric remains a master of “keeping it simple.”

Eric’s website is www.erictyson.com.

About the Book:
Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition (Wiley, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1181178-5-9, $22.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974.

 

8 Ways to Get the Best Price

price tag

As if staying on budget during the holidays wasn’t hard enough, retailers are using dynamic pricing to make it even more difficult. The concept refers to the practice of changing the price of a product based on fluctuations in supply, demand, and even in response to the weather.

However, most retailers use dynamic pricing to one-up their competitors. Earlier this year, the price of a microwave oven on Amazon changed nine times in one day, ranging from $745 to $872. That’s over $125 in savings if you bought at the right time — and a really bad purchase if you bought at the wrong one.

So what’s the best way to navigate fluctuating prices and land the cheapest deal? Consider the following eight tips for hassle-free savings.

1. Use price-predictor sites.
Sites like Decide.com and PriceGrabber.com are designed to help you determine the best time to buy a desired item. Price histories and product reviews are also available at your fingertips, since each of these sites has an app for your smartphone or tablet.

2. Look for coupons in-store.
In addition to shopping during sale time, grab coupons while you’re browsing in-store using the Coupon Sherpa mobile app. The app is free for both Android and Apple devices, and enables you to search for discounts that can be scanned or entered directly from your smartphone.

3. Try tracking tools.
PricePinx is a free service that sends you a notification when the price of a desired product drops. FreePriceAlerts is a browser add-on that helps you find the best price when searching online for products. And CamelCamelCamel is another browser add-on with price history and price-drop notifications for items on Amazon, Best Buy and Newegg.

4. Redeem reward points.
One of the easiest ways to save money on holiday gifts is to use your credit card reward points toward discounts and gift cards. Some credit cards will offer extra points when you shop at select stores, and others will offer discounts on gift cards to specific retailers. Ultimately, it’s best to call your credit card company to determine what specials and extra savings are available.

5. Get a price match.
Stores such as Target and Best Buy are matching Amazon prices this holiday season, and Lowe’s and Home Depot usually duke it out for customers by offering price match “plus,” or 10-percent off their competitor’s better price. Ultimately, it pays to shop around and ask store managers about price-matching options. Use a barcode-scanning app like RedLaser to determine what a product costs at local stores and online retailers.

6. Ask for a price adjustment.
Some stores offer price adjustments on products that drop in price after your purchase. Timeframe is always a factor, so keep your receipt and track the product’s price two to four weeks after you purchase it. A friend of mine received $25 back when the artificial Christmas tree she purchased for $75 dropped to $50.

7. Ditch the extras.
Extended warranties and expedited shipping are just two of the many add-ons that increase the price of your product. The basic warranty is typically sufficient, especially if the credit card you’re using has additional coverage. And, events like Free Shipping Day on Monday, Dec. 17 make it easy to order last-minute gifts while dodging delivery fees.

8. Review your credit card perks.
In addition to rewards, some credit cards offer price guarantees. These guarantees make qualifying purchases eligible for a partial refund when they drop in price during a certain timeframe. This is different than a price adjustment because it’s issued by your credit card company, not the retailer.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Wooden Bowls and Biscuits

Biscuits and jam
Warm Biscuits

A basket of biscuits from the oven.

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and a day of college football. I sat around the kitchen counter with family and friends.  We drank coffee and chatted while Marcia set down her bag and unpacked her Tupperware container of flour, a large can of Crisco, a sifter and a beautiful wooden bowl.   She set a small cooler with buttermilk by the entry.

Marcia and her husband are our best friends’ parents.  Each year our group gathers from across the south to watch some football, visit and eat.  Everyone brings a dish to share and for Marcia it is homemade biscuits   She normally arrives to this annual gathering with a container of biscuits premade and ready to devour.  But today, she wanted us to enjoy them hot out of the oven.   Little known to her, she brought me an additional gift….

I watched as she lovingly picked up the wooden bowl and wiped the smooth surface with her hand. I didn’t touch the bowl, but could tell by the way her hand glided across the surface, that it was silky smooth. As she set her items on the counter she told us about purchasing the bowl as a young student. It had been an extravagant purchase but one she still cherished today. Except for some rubbed spots on the bottom of the bowl, it still looked like the day she purchased it.

Marcia's bowl

Gently, Marcia wipes the bowl. A treasured purchase as a young student.

 

We continued to visit and chat as Marcia worked. We discussed our favorite flour brands, self-rising versus plain flour, whole milk versus buttermilk. She carefully scooped flour into the sifter resting in the bowl. Slowly she cranked the sifters handle and I watched as the flour fell through the screen on the bottom like soft snow. Skillfully she piled the sifted flour to the sides of the bowl making a dome in the middle.

She measured the Crisco into the center and with her fingers started working the shortening and flour into a ball of dough. She slowly added small amounts of buttermilk and sifted in more flour until her ball of dough felt just right. It is a craft, passed down and learned through years of practice. My mind drifted back to watching my grandmother make biscuits.

Like Marcia, I grew up in a family that delighted in homemade biscuit. My mother and grandmother had passed the recipe to me along with the tips and tricks of making delicate, light bread. My family recipe is quick and simple. We can whip up a quick batch of biscuits in a country minute. Marcia‘s biscuits tasted the same, but her technique was very different. It isn’t quick, but slow and rhythmic. There is no pastry cutter, biscuit cutter or rolling pin. The ingredients of flour, shortening and milk are the same in both. One way is not better than the other, just different. Just like people are all different but no one person is better than the other.

bowl and sifter

The sifter sits in soft flour.

Marcia never looked at what she was doing, but felt it. When her dough was the consistency she wanted, she started pinching and rolling circles in the palm of her hand.

She placed them in the pans and with her fingertips, lovingly pushed them down to the familiar biscuit shape. At this point I would have been rolling the dough and cutting my perfect round shapes. Marcia laughed as she made baby biscuits to fit into the empty spots of the pans. When the pan was full she quickly wet her fingertips with water and circled the top of each biscuit. When I asked the reason, she smiled and said, “ I have no idea except that my family always did that.” She popped them in the oven.

patting the tops with water

Gently wiping the top of each biscuit with water.

While the biscuits cooked, we chatted and drank more coffee. Marcia cleaned up her supplies. She once again lovingly wiped down the bowl. She took a moment and talked about the proper way to care for a wooden bowl. You could tell that one day this would be a treasured heirloom passed down to another generation. Hopefully they will use it to make biscuits too.

The golden biscuits were delicious. But as I broke my biscuit to find steaming soft crumbs I realized it wasn’t the biscuits that were important. We could have made a breakfast that morning with frozen biscuits and no one would have thought about it.

The gift Marcia brought that morning was a reminder. While our recipes varied the main ingredient was the same. Love. There is love in taking the time to do the small gestures- to use our hands to make something for our family and friends. It was a gift of time…years of time. Traditions, family recipes and cooking skills passed down for generations like wooden bowls and biscuits.

Adding the milk

The feel of the dough determines the amount of buttermilk.

A pan of biscuits

Marcia gently pushes the tops of each biscuitGrandma's Biscuits

Grandma’s Biscuits from Maggie’s Family Recipe File

2 cups Self Rising Flour (sifted)

½ cup Crisco

2/3 cup milk

Cut flour and Crisco together until it resembles the size of peas.  Slowly add milk*.  Knead the mixture gently until it make a moist but not sticky ball.

Move dough to a lightly floured surface and roll with pin to a ½” thickness.  Dip cup or biscuit cutter in flour and cut biscuits.

Place biscuits on pan with sides touching.  Bake at  425 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

*Amounts are estimates.  Dough should be moist but not sticky.  Buttermilk can be used instead of whole milk.  We always used the milk on hand.

Biscuits and jam
A warm buttered biscuit with homemade jam.

 

For more photos visit the Fayette Woman Facebook page.

Tips for Successful Mother’s Day Shopping

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It’s almost Mother’s Day! Whether you are ordering flowers, shopping for custom jewelry, or arranging for a special spa day appointments for the wonderful women in their life, be a smart consumer. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) sees lots of scams that focus on holiday shopping, and is warning consumers to proceed with caution before falling victim to a Mother’s Day vender scam, especially when shopping online.

BBB urges consumers to take extra precaution with placing floral orders, especially online. Not all online florists are the same. While some people are extremely happy with their online floral purchases, others find themselves disappointed when the flowers don’t arrive on time, or don’t arrive at all. In 2011, more than 96,000 consumers searched for trustworthy florists on www.bbb.org. Most major floral delivery services are BBB Accredited Businesses, as are more than 500 local florists across the U.S. and Canada.

When finalizing gifts and shopping online, BBB recommends adhering to the following:

  • Do your homework. Before ordering flowers, jewelry or any other gifts for Mother’s Day, check out the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org. This is a great way to help prevent disappointment with the product or customer service
  • Allow time for shipping and delivery. Check with the retailer or website to be certain that you have allowed enough time for delivery. Make sure that this date is specified clearly and guaranteed when you order. If you order ahead of time, delivery and other charges will be less than last-minute or overnight shipping. Some florists offer discounts for deliveries a couple of days before a major holiday, since that helps them deal with the rush.
  • Have a back-up plan. Make sure you understand the store’s guarantee. Find out how customer complaints are handled and what recourse you will have if the arrangement is not satisfactory. It’s best to use a credit card when ordering online, because you can dispute charges if the vendor doesn’t come through. Charges made on a debit card are the same as cash and you have no recourse through your bank if there is a problem.
  • Make sure the business has your information. When it comes to flower delivery, there are times when delivery instructions need to be confirmed or a delivery driver needs additional directions. Making sure the florist has a call-back phone number or your cell phone to help them make sure your mom gets what you expect.

 

For more tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org.

11 Useful Gifts for College Grads

college grad shutterstock_86654011

Once the euphoria of being done with class has subsided, new grads must face what adults have been warning them about for twenty-plus years: the real world.

Poised on the cusp of opportunity, young professionals may be considered “the lucky ones” by the older crowd, but grappling with unemployment and severe debt is no walk in the park. Ease the transition from carefree college life to responsible adulthood with these 11 practical gifts for college grads.

1. Cash
Life after graduation is exciting but it’s also laden with ugly financial responsibilities like credit card and student loan debt. In fact, total borrowing for student loans in a single year eclipsed $100 billion for the first time ever in 2010. Despite the perceived lack of effort associated with gifting cash, new grads are likely your most enthusiastic recipients.

2. Gift Cards
Though cash is very useful, who’s to say the new grad will spend it wisely when temptations abound? Reduce distractions by creating a gift registry at CardAvenue.com and have family and friends purchase cards to restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations and department stores to help your graduate with everyday expenses.

3. Resume Service
Most colleges have career centers with advisors available to assist students with their career search and resume development, but that “free” service is gone upon graduation. If your new grad is still struggling with effectively conveying his accomplishments on paper, consider gifting him with a professional resume service.

4. Financial Planning Session
One of the best gifts you can offer a recent grad is the opportunity to begin her new life on the right financial foot. By purchasing one or more professional financial planning sessions, you’re offering the opportunity to learn the most effective approach for establishing a budget, paying off debt and saving for retirement.

5. Personal Finance Books
If a professional financial planner is out of the question budget-wise, opt for the DIY approach to personal finance: buy a book. You may think that’s a bad gift for someone who’s just retired their textbooks forever, but personal finance advice is invaluable to a generation laden with debt. Plus, these recommended titles are offered by a dude who sports a mohawk and refers to budgets as “sexy.” Ultimately, you can’t find a cooler money mentor.

6. Foreign Language Lessons
The job market may be looking up for 2012 grads, but ultimately it never hurts to add to your skill set. Knowing a second language is not only impressive, it wards off dementia and opens up job opportunities throughout the globe. Rosetta Stone is an affordable alternative to formal instruction and offers the added advantage of mobility.

7. Magazine or Newspaper Subscriptions
In addition to enhancing skills sets, being in the know about the latest happenings helps job seekers stay informed and relevant. A subscription — either digital or hard copy — to The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal ensures a well-rounded education on current events. Alternatively, offering a trade magazine within the graduate’s area of study or interest is another good option.

8. Roth IRA
Most twenty-somethings are caught up with immediate concerns — where to work, where to live, and how to afford it all — so opening a Roth IRA helps jump-start saving for the future. Account holders can make tax-free withdrawals once they hit retirement age, and better yet, they can withdraw contributions tax and penalty-free. It’s important to know the basics of Roth IRAs, however, in order to effectively manage the account.

9. Job Interview Clothing
After living on graphic tees and torn jeans, it’s likely the new grad in your life could use some “grown-up clothes” for job interviews. If the preferred style of the recipient and the required wardrobe of the industry are unknown to you, offer a gift card. Otherwise, schedule a suit fitting or organize a shopping spree and help the budding professional select the proper attire.

10. Smartphone
As the nomenclature suggests, a smartphone is a savvy way for new grads to stay on top of communications from potential employers, navigate their way through unfamiliar streets and keep in touch with Mom and Dad. Additionally, the abundance of apps for everything from cheap dinner recipes to budget-management tools makes young lives a little easier.

11. Moving Truck
Anyone who’s moved down the street or across the country knows the costs involved are anything but cheap. If the area in which the happy graduate went to school is not where she intends to stay, consider helping her with moving costs by contributing to a truck rental (if needed). Otherwise, offer your labor in exchange for lunch and help her lug boxes for an afternoon.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

5 Fun and Frugal Valentine’s Day Gifts for Pets

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Dog and cat owners receive the rarest form of affection — unconditional love that is more worthy of Cupid’s arrow than any well-matched couple.

No wonder pet lovers go hog wild over gifts for their four-legged friends during the holidays — and Valentine’s Day is no exception. In 2011, the National Retail Federation expected consumers to spend 54 percent more on their pets than in 2010. Naturally, this represents yet another opportunity for retailers to make a few bucks, so consider these frugal gift ideas to please your precious pets without blowing your budget.

1. Make it Personal
According to the American Pet Product Association, spending on pets in 2010 is estimated at $47.7 billion. That’s a lot of chew toys. Set your gift apart from the pack by personalizing it with your pet’s name or picture. You can get this done professionally for a pretty penny, but consider how easy it is to create a photo of your beloved canine for her treat container or food bowl.

2. Tasty Treats
You can find festive treats for cats and dogs alike at most major pet stores, including Petsmart and Petco. Cut down on the cost of these premade goodies and purchase gift cards at a discount from sites like GiftCardGranny. You can save up to 10 percent, leaving room in your budget for a bit more pooch-pampering.

3. Edible Greeting Cards
It’s high time someone in the greeting card industry thanked all those cute animals gracing the covers of Hallmark cards with a greeting card of their own. Enter Crunchkins, the creator or edible greeting cards for dogs and cats. For less than $5, you can mail a rawhide card to your dog or a catnip card to your kitty, complete with a heartfelt message conveying your love.

4. Cheap DIY Chew Toys
We all know some kids have more fun with the packaging of a pricey present over the actual contents. The same can be said for your pet, who grasps the connection between price and affection even less so than your toddler. Skip the premade wares and go DIY this Valentine’s Day with a homemade tug-of-war rope made of old socks, or a crackly paper bag for your kitty-cat max.

5. Baked Goodies
If you bake cookies for your sweetheart, consider baking a special batch for Fido and Fluffy. You can make delicious treats for your pets out of common ingredients, and feel good knowing just what’s going into their bellies. Red Velvet Pupcakes, perhaps? Find this recipe and others at Dogster.com.

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Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles. To view recent interviews or for more savings tips visit AndreaWoroch.com.

New Rules for Gift Cards

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New Federal Reserve rules provide important protections when you purchase or use gift cards. Here are some key changes that apply to gift cards sold on or after August 22, 2010:

Who is covered by the new rules?

Store gift cards, which can be used only at a particular store or group of stores, such as a book store or clothing retailer.

Gift cards with a MasterCard, Visa, American Express, or Discover brand logo. These cards generally can be used wherever the brand is accepted. (Not all cards with a brand logo are covered; see “Other prepaid cards” below for exceptions.)

New protections

Limits on expiration dates. The money on your gift card will be good for at least five years from the date the card is purchased. Any money that might be added to the card at a later date must also be good for at least five years.

Replacement cards. If your gift card has an expiration date you still may be able to use unspent money that is left on the card after the card expires. For example, the card may expire in five years but the money may not expire for seven. If your card expires and there is unspent money, you can request a replacement card at no charge. Check your card to see if expiration dates apply.

Fees disclosed. All fees must be clearly disclosed on the gift card or its packaging.

Limits on fees. Gift card fees typically are subtracted from the money on the card. Under the new rules, many gift card fees are limited. Generally, fees can be charged if

• you haven’t used your card for at least one year, and

• you are only charged one fee per month.

These restrictions apply to fees such as

• dormancy or inactivity fees for not using your card,

• fees for using your card (sometimes called usage fees),

• fees for adding money to your card, and

• maintenance fees.

You can still be charged a fee to purchase the card and certain other fees, such as a fee to replace a lost or stolen card. Make sure you read the card disclosure carefully to know what fees your card may have.

Other prepaid cards

These new rules apply only to gift cards, which are just one type of prepaid card. The new rules do not cover other types of prepaid cards, such as:

• Reloadable prepaid cards that are not intended for gift-giving purposes. For example, a reloadable prepaid card with a MasterCard, Visa, American Express, or Discover brand logo that is intended to be used like a checking account substitute is not covered.

• Cards that are given as a reward or as part of a promotion. For example, a free $15 gift card given to you by a store if you purchase merchandise or services of $100 or more may have fees or an expiration date of one year rather than five years. Regardless, you must be clearly informed of any expiration dates or fees for these cards.

Gifts and Gadgets for Foodies

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Holidays are all about family gatherings, laughter and fun; they are time around the table with an abundance of food and a gathering of loved ones. However, before these joyous moments take place, hours are spent in the kitchen preparing favorite recipes and delicious holiday cookies. Dirty dishes pile over, spills and splatters decorate stove tops, and flour and sugar dust the counters. It all becomes worth it, though, as familiar scents of spices and sweets begin to waft through the air.

While holiday meal preparation can be an enjoyable task, it can also be overwhelming.

Helping hands can make the process a little easier, but sometimes a clever gadget can also be a saving grace in the kitchen, both at the holidays and all year long.

Chopping vegetables can be a timely and cumbersome process when preparing a large meal, but Cuisinart’s Elite Collection 4-cup Chopper Grinder can expedite the process while making it a little safer. This food processor is ideal for chopping everything from nuts to vegetables. Another product that makes vegetable chopping a little easier is the mandolin, which is ideal for making smooth, evenly chopped slices of vegetables such as carrots or potatoes.

Another simple item that can save time for a home chef is a silicone splatter screen. Available in a variety of sizes to fit most pots and pans, splatter screens are easy to wash. A silicone screen can handle heat up to 600 degrees. Splatter screens are available in most kitchen stores or kitchen sections of department stores.

While silicone is an ideal material for a splatter screen because of its heat tolerance, silicone has also recently debuted in another form. The Food Pod Silicone Food Vessel helps remove and drain food from boiling water. The top of the pod clips to the pan so that it can be lifted from the water easily without burning any fingers. The Food Pod also makes rinsing fruits or vegetables simple and convenient.

When preparing Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie or pastry dough, the Joseph Joseph Adjustable Rolling Pin, available at Williams-Sonoma, allows for no-hassle precision. The rolling pin comes with three sets of discs that can be attached to each end of the rolling pin in order to ensure correct dough thickness. The discs create thicknesses of 3/8, 1/4 and 1/16 of an inch. In addition, the barrel of the rolling pin has measurements etched into it so that bakers can roll their dough to the exact diameter they require.

Bakers will also enjoy Progressive’s™ Measuring Flour Sifter, available at both Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. This common-sense gadget not only measures both unsifted and sifted flour, but also sifts flour into an attached container to prevent sifted flour from powdering the countertops and floor. The measuring flour sifter is also dishwasher safe.

Holidays often require several batches of cookies or several dishes baking at the same time, which can pose a problem for the average homeowner with only one oven. However, The Nifty 3-Tier Oven Rack instantly multiplies an oven’s capacity. This product is available at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Whether you run out to purchase a few gadgets before the holidays begin, or you put some on your own Christmas wish list, a few inexpensive gadgets can save time both in preparation and in clean-up—time that can then be spent with family or relaxing contently after a triumph in the kitchen.

Great Gifts for Gardeners

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If you’ve got a gardener on your holiday gift list, you’re in luck! Gardeners are down-to-earth (pun intended), and easy to shop for because they love anything that helps them enhance their landscape. I asked some avid gardeners about gifts on their wish list this year, and here is just a sample of great gift ideas for gardeners.

Gloves: Gardeners can never have enough gloves. Master Gardener Dortha Stinson told me, “I wear so many types of gardening gloves that they are always on my wish list. My family never takes me seriously when I ask for gloves and I have yet to receive a gift pair.” Women gardeners are always looking for gloves that fit their smaller hands, are durable, pliable and reinforced at the finger tips. Popular types include washable suede cowhide, gripping, nitrile, canvas and cotton jersey. Katz Garden Gloves (katzgardengloves.com) and Fox Gloves (foxglovesinc.com) are good online sources.

Pruning Shears: Most gardeners never go outside without a hand pruner tucked in a pocket. Bypass pruners are preferred because they make a sharp, clean cut using two blades that bypass each other like a pair of scissors. The top-of-the-line pruner is a Felco, adored by many gardeners (including myself). The Felco is more expensive than most, costing around $65, but you can get discounts online. If you purchase a Felco directly from the manufacturer, you receive a lifetime limited warranty. The Felco 2 is the most popular, but the Felco 6 is a little more comfortable for those with small hands. Lee Valley Gardening Tools (leevalley.com) also has a nice selection of pruners and other gardening tools. If you decide to buy a pruner for your gardener, tie a colorful ribbon on the end. More pruners are lost out in the yard than any other tool!

Utility Knifes: A utility knife or soil knife is great for cutting small roots and dividing perennials; it can also be used as a narrow trowel. The Oxo Good Grip Garden Knife and the A.M. Leonard Soil Knife (amleo.com) are highly rated and include a sheath you can attach to your belt. Also check out Smokey Mountain Knife Works (smkw.com) for a great selection.

Rain Gauge: Gardeners are obsessed with measuring precipitation to know if their plants are getting enough moisture. The Stratus 4” rain gauge is top-of-the-line and is also the official gauge of the Community Collective Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) – a collaboration of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation. Give the gift of a Stratus rain gauge and include information on joining CoCoRaHS (cocorahs.org) and charting rainfall in our area. You can order the rain gauge at weatheryourway.com or rainmanweather.com for around $30.

Knee Pads: As gardeners age, they really appreciate items that protect their knees and back. Knee pads or a kneeling bench (which can be used as a seat or flipped over to kneel on) are excellent gifts for older gardeners or those with arthritis or other disabilities.

Gift Basket: Your gardener will be ready to fight heat and pests in the coming spring if you put together a gift basket filled with protective items such as sun screen, bug spray, citronella candles, poison ivy block, gel to sooth the itching of insect bites and hand soaps and creams to pamper over-used hands. Add a garden hat and long-sleeve shirt with UV protection and you will help your gardener beat the elements throughout the coming year.

Plants: Yes, it really is all about the plants. Every gardener appreciates the gift of a new plant or a pretty pot to put it in. If your gardener loves camellias, purchase ‘Yuletide,’ which blooms during the holidays. Not sure what to buy? Get a gift certificate to a local nursery and let your gardener select his or her own plants.

Garden Bling: A great garden has a “feel” created by the structures, focal points and interesting pieces of art you find in the space. Urns, statuary, wind chimes, benches, gazing balls and antique tools all add to the personality of the garden. You can find pieces at local nurseries, antique shops, online and through catalogs like Frontgate.

Gifts to Attract Wildlife: Gardeners know that wildlife makes a garden come to life. Bird baths, bird feeders and birdhouses are always coveted. One friend enjoyed receiving a charming butterfly hibernation house purchased from Wild Birds Unlimited. Another gardener said the most romantic gift she ever received from her husband was a bluebird house for Valentine’s Day!

Gadgets: For the gardener who loves the latest in technology, consider the EasyBloom Plant Sensor, promoted as the “#1 Best-Selling Garden Tool” in the country. The sensor measures sunlight, temperature, water and fertilizer needs. It seems to be a tool that beginners love but veteran gardeners can do without. A soil pH meter is a valuable tool that accurately measures soil pH (acidity). This is important to determine what nutrients need to be added to garden beds for plants to thrive. Gardening applications for smart phones are popular and inexpensive. Apps cover everything from locating garden supplies at area stores to organizing your “to do” list of garden tasks. The iPhone even offers a “Repel Mosquito” app that transmits a high frequency unbearable to mosquitoes!

Books, Magazines and Memberships: Garden journals and good reference books on any aspect of gardening are always treasured gifts. Month-By-Month Gardening in Georgia by Walter Reeves and Erica Glasener and Proven Plants: Southern Garden by Erica Glasener are good choices for information on gardening in the South. A monthly subscription to a favorite magazine like Georgia Gardening, Fine Gardening, Southern Living or Horticulture will be appreciated as well. If you want to inspire your gardener, give a one-year membership ($60) to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Big Stuff! Every gardener I know would love to have a Mantis Tiller/Cultivator. This light-weight tool cuts through compacted soil and makes tilling a garden bed so much easier than using a shovel. It retails for about $350 but you can get some good deals on eBay. A greenhouse is one of those items gardeners dream about to store tender plants during the winter and propagate plants all year. You can get a small hobby greenhouse for around $150 or spend thousands on a commercial greenhouse. How about considering a new potting bench, compost bin, potting shed or an ornamental pond kit?

Still stumped for a great gift for a gardener? Donate your labor in the garden! Every gardener appreciates someone who will help weed, mow and dig holes. Just go get a truck load of composted horse manure and spread it in your gardener’s planting beds. You’ll be a hero! For more gift ideas for gardeners, check out my blog, ‘Garden Views’ at fayettewoman.com.

Mucklow’s invites kids to Mothers’ Day workshop

4th annual Mother's Day workshop

4th annual Mother's Day workshop

Just in time for Mother’s Day, children are invited to Mucklow’s to make a bracelet or a pendant for Mom out of sterling silver (staff are on hand to assist in the crafting).  There will also be games, musice and a craft table for making handmade Mother’s Day cards.  This event benefits the Promise Place.
Costs: Bracelets $35, Necklaces $25, smile on Mom’s face, FREE (price includes a $10 donation from each piece to the Promise Place)

Dates:

  • Saturday April 24th 10am to 2pm
  • Sunday, April 25th 12pm to 3pm
  • Saturday, May 1st  10am to 2pm
  • Sunday, May 2nd  12pm to 3pm

The Best Gift

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I recently celebrated a birthday, which truthfully I would have preferred to blissfully ignore.  Unlike my two children, who talk about their birthdays nearly all year long, I didn’t  want to acknowledge that I was another year older.

birthdayThe day started with breakfast in bed (a cup of tea and a doughnut with a candle), followed by several thoughtful presents.  My husband and I typically exchange fairly modest gifts. We prefer to help the kids pick out gifts, which often involves explaining why 40-year-old mommies and daddies aren’t as excited about Star Wars action figures and Disney Princess coloring books as they might be.

Sometimes, as a parent you wonder if you are modeling the grown-up behavior that you want your children to embrace. Most days, I remain uncertain, but on the morning of my birthday, I learned a little something about giving.

My almost five-year-old daughter picked out a lovely bouquet of miniature red roses. My six-year-old son gave me a beautiful silver locket, which I assumed his Daddy had purchased while they shopped together. Apparently, the rule about making assumptions still rings true. My husband and son shared the real story.

Filigree-Heart-Locket-Watch_12F5838[1]“Daddy and I went to look for a birthday present for you. I saw some silver necklaces and asked Daddy if he thought you would like one, ” reported my son.  “I said yes and after awhile we finally picked out the ‘best’ necklace,” added my husband. “I told him that we were ready to check out.” “I told Daddy that we couldn’t pay for it yet, because I didn’t have any money with me,” my son interjected. “Daddy said that he would pay for it, but I really wanted it to be from me. So, we drove home and got my money out of my Lightning McQueen wallet and went back to the store to buy the necklace. I was worried the whole time that it wouldn’t be there when we got back. But it was.”

The look of pride on my son’s face was absolutely priceless–a true gift. I am happy that he got to experience the joy of  giving someone he loves a thoughtful gift.  I still hear “I want that,” when a noisy overpriced toy appears on the television screen, but I block it out when I look at my priceless $2.00 locket.